Bo Xilai, a former high-ranking Communist Party of China (CPC) official, has finally been indicted for corruption, abuse of power, and bribery, in the culmination of a scandal that has rocked China’s political landscape for over a year. While Bo may be guilty of the charges he faces, he is certainly not the first government official in China to be embroiled in a corruption scandal, and with President Xi Jinping’s focus on cleanup, he will not be the last. Xi’s push to revitalize the Communist Party and revitalize its image by tackling corruption is, on paper, a step in the right direction for Chinese governmental transparency. However, Xi is using a flawed judicial system to accomplish this goal, which is tarnishing his efforts, and placing their sincerity into question.
Bo, once the CPC chief of the city of Chongqing and a member of the Politburo, was a popular figure who rose to prominence through initiatives that curtailed organized crime, encouraged economic growth, and promoted "China’s old communist values.” His notoriety and open ambition for power made him a prime target for Xi’s crackdown. According to the Xinhua, the state's news agency, the investigation found that Bo “took advantage of his position as a civil servant to seek gains for others.” He allegedly received $3.3 million in bribes, and embezzled nearly $1 million of public money. It is expected that Bo will face a suspended death sentence, which can be reduced to as little as 15 years in prison.
It is important to note that Bo is one of several high-ranking officials within the CPC who have been charged with corruption in recent years. Others include the former party boss of Shanghai, Chen Lianygyu, and the former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, who were found guilty of taking bribes and abusing power, as well as Cai Bin, the former political commissar of Guangzhou, who was fired after investigations uncovered his family’s ownership of over 20 homes.
Bo asserted his innocence to CNN through his lawyer, and said that he wants an “open trial and the opportunity to defend himself during that process.” However, the judicial system is under Communist Party control, and according to the New York Times, it is likely that the court's verdict has already been decided by party leaders, and that the forthcoming trial is for show. Guilty or not, there is a real likelihood that Bo and other officials of similar stature are viewed by the party as a threat to the authority of the leadership, and their prosecutions are the outward manifestations of the power struggle within the party.
It is understandable that Xi is seeking to establish that his administration is above the fray and opposed to corruption — and also that he would attempt to consolidate his power by sidelining the opposition. However, because Xi is doing so by subverting the judicial process, he risks alienating the very public he wishes to impress, and perpetuating China’s legacy of political suppression. Guilty or not, Bo and his allegedly corrupt cohort deserve the opportunity for a transparent trial, and for due process.